Jeanette: Empowering Women through Sewing
We follow the story of Jeanette, whose business, Zenzeleni Zenzeleni, is growing and thriving thanks to the assistance of Womens Platform.
The Women’s Platform at Scalabrini seeks to empower women and share valuable skills whether it’s personal development skills, business savviness or vocational training. Through these opportunities, a vast network of incredible women has been constructed. Many come back to gain more skills or help their peers. The Women Platform’s small business course helps women grow their small businesses.
Every few days, Jeanette can be seen in the offices of Scalabrini, laying different fabrics down on a desk or showcasing her latest creations for various people in the office. Her backpacks, pants and shirts feature bright blocks of patterns, perfectly sewn together. Sewing is a new skill, which has become more than a simple past time activity. Jeanette’s sewing came out of her journey as a refugee, fleeing from Rwanda to Cape Town.
Jeanette has been in South Africa for thirteen years after fleeing Rwanda in 2005. “I had to escape the violence there was still political unrest and did not feel safe. I first fled to Malawi and then from I made the trek to Cape Town, following my aunt’s advice who had been there before. “Jeanette was drawn to Cape Town’s multicultural and “cosmopolitan” environment. “I felt it was the best place for me to go that was safe and offered opportunities. I have built a life here with my husband and two children, aged three and nine, who were born here.”
“I had to escape the violence there was still political unrest and did not feel safe. I first fled to Malawi and then from I made the trek to Cape Town, following my aunt’s advice who had been there before. “
“When I first arrived I started working in a corner shop. In the following years I could see there was no potential and the job would not lead me anywhere. It left me uninspired and unsure of how to move forward.” In 2013, Jeanette resigned. “After I left that job, I spent my time at home taking care of the house and children – but I knew I could do more. It was then that a friend challenged me to learn sewing and make something of my life. Even though I didn’t like it at first, she would wake me up early and make me learn.”
Jeanette explains that her negative attitude towards sewing was from her preconceptions back in Rwanda. “At home people in this (sewing) job never grow…so when this lady introduced it i was really angry, I thought ‘why are you introducing me to something where I’ll never grow?’ But as time went on, I began to enjoy it and saw the business opportunity.”
“I pushed myself to learn how to sew from YouTube, not wanting to ask for help and as a way to prove myself. I then started to sell my small creations.” When asked about the impact of sewing, Jeanette says it “changed my life from sleeping and crying to someone who can wake up in the morning and say ‘I can do this’.”
In 2016, Jeanette decided to pursue a teaching training at CPUT. “I didn’t have money to afford the class books, so I started selling my pencil cases to my classmates. These became so popular that at some point the Head of Department stood in front of the class, looked out at the students and asked ,’where did all of you get your pencil cases?’ She then allowed me to use the space at CPUT to give sewing lessons. At first I started giving lessons free of charge to high school students and at a cheap price for women”. In trying to expand her sewing business, Jeanette came across Scalabrini. Jeanette came into the office looking for help in finding a marketplace where she could sell her products. She was directed to the Women’s Platform. As part of Women’s Platform intake, women must take a compulsory Personal Development course.
The personal development course aims to enhance women’s self-awareness and the sense of self as a resource while improving personal development skills, such as effective communication, goal setting, conflict resolution, and job-seeking skills. “Looking back at the experience, it taught me to value my own opinion and value myself. It gave me confidence and more inspiration for my business.”
Following the course, Jeanette attended an information session where she learnt about the small business course that was also offered to women. “This is what I needed to make my business grow so I signed up as soon as I could. The Women’s Platform also connected me to a network of people to befriend and sell to, so I wanted to use all the opportunities to grow myself, my business and my network.”
“This is what I needed to make my business grow so I signed up as soon as I could. The Women’s Platform also connected me to a network of people to befriend and sell to, so I wanted to use all the opportunities to grow myself, my business and my network.”
The small business course teaches a variety of skills including bookkeeping and budgeting. “Before this course, I relied on my intuition to stay in check. The skills I learnt on the course were so good, I could implement them into my business immediately.”
With her new Facebook page, Zenzeleni Zenzeleni (which means do it for yourself), Jeanette is excited for the future. “I am now advertising my products on Facebook and running my sewing course every Saturday at CPUT. The aim of my business is not just about myself. I want to give back and create opportunities for others. We are a community upliftment programme, we empower women to learn sewing skills in order for them to use those skills to make profit and be able to feed their families.”
Small businesses like Jeanette’s Zenzeleni Zenzeleni contribute to the South African economy and help create more jobs. Jeanette’s business is contributing to the economy by empowering both migrants and South Africans through her classes, allowing everyone to learn sewing. Even at this point where she is fairly independent, Jeanette still receives support and guidance from Womens’ Platform team, who are teaching her different tools to expand her business including social media and making business cards.
“Women’s platform has become such an important part of my life now. I felt alone at times, but now I have the friendship and support I need to make it in this country. While I am not sure what the future holds, for now I am able to focus on my business, grow it and give others the opportunity to learn this life longs skills. I would not be able to do this without the support of Scalabrini and the Womens Platform.”